What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘retreat’? Gossiping and giggling while wrapped in clingfilm and drinking champagne? A nil by mouth endurance test in monastery-like conditions so you 'find yourself'?
Emma’s Dale has taken the retreat concept and made it accessible, informal and fun, regardless of time constraints and budget. So if you want the full residential experience, that’s ok, but if you can only manage a day, that’s ok too.
If you read my Lockdown Top Ten of Shame you’ll know that lately, my idea of self-care has extended to little more than allowing myself to work on my sofa rather than my desk, so a little time away from work and the four walls of home has been well overdue. Emerging bleary eyed and bloated from lockdown, I'd almost forgotten what to do with my time and freedom that didn't involve drinking wine in someone's garden (although I’ll obviously keep doing that), so I promised myself that I’d try some new things on my own to broaden my horizons and the possibilities for my website. That's when Emmas Dale popped up on my Google search.
To get me started, I chose a day retreat that combined exercise and relaxation with something I hadn’t tried before – forest bathing.
Easily accessible from the A1, Camp Katur is stunningly beautiful. We met on the decking of a huge marquee in the middle of lush forest where we were greeted by Emma, who offered us home-made smoothies and protein balls as a pre-pilates snack. I don’t actually like smoothies, but I didn’t want to be that micro-diva who started making demands before the day had even started, so I gave one a try and practically downed it in one because it was so nice.
After everyone had got to know one another (there were no cringe ‘icebreakers’ or enforced introductions) we made our way into the marquee – complete with twinkly lights – and started our mindful pilates session, expertly and warmly led by Kate (Nurtured Warrier on Instagram). While enjoyable and relaxing, the session quickly made me realise how decrepit my lockdown body has actually become, and strengthened my resolve to include some strength training in my exercise routine, as running alone isn’t doing my joints any favours.
There was something very special about spending my Saturday morning in a beautiful forest, exercising to the sound of the wind whistling through countless trees. After a relaxation session that made me want to ask if I could forgo the rest of the itinerary and just lie in the tent for the day, it was time to move on.
Next was an alfresco picnic, again lovingly prepared by Emma and presented to each of us in a beautiful box. The food was plentiful, colourful, filling and healthy, complete with a dessert of home-made marshmallows and strawberries. There was plenty of time to eat, chill and chat with the other women who’d treated themselves to the retreat, all of whom just wanted to take time out and try something new. Some came along with friends, there was a lovely Mum and daughter, and two others who, like me, had wanted to do something for themselves so had come alone.
When we were ready, it was time for our next activity: forest bathing. This old as time practice is basically about using the beauty of nature to intensify the mindfulness experience. Faith (Faith in the Woods on Instagram) lives and works in the woods, and her passion and knowledge for the environment we were in was truly infectious. She invited us to make space for ourselves – metaphorically and physically – to appreciate what was around us and simply recharge, focusing on each of the senses. I’m used to people guffawing at some of my ‘alternative’ beliefs and pursuits but let me tell you, don’t dismiss the benefits of truly relaxing in your own corner of a stunningly beautiful forest until you’ve tried it! As well as guiding us expertly through the mindfulness experience and the forest itself, Fay shared some fantastic tips for taking what we’d learnt into our day to day lives, and I’m already planning my next forest trip.
The final part of the day was another warm welcome from Emma, who was waiting for us undercover with hot and cold drinks and unfeasibly delicious vegan home-made brownies. After more easy conversation and goodbyes, we all made our way home with promises to return.
I absolutely LOVED my experience, have already connected with some of the women I met on social media, and definitely plan to deliver on that promise.
What self-care would you recommend for other readers? Comment below!